For years, the husband-and-wife team worked side-by-side, caring for wildlife in their native Africa, working to raise awareness and stamp out the illegal poaching of elephants for the ivory trade.
In 1977, just one year after the couple moved to Nairobi National Park, Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s husband died of a heart attack. She continued his legacy by establishing the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, one of just three organizations on the entire continent that works to rescue, rehabilitate, and release elephants orphaned due to human activity.
Some of the baby elephants become ensnared in human-made traps, while others stumble and fall into abandoned wells, but the majority were left orphans after their mothers were killed for their tusks.
Without human intervention, these babies almost certainly would have died, because they’re dependent on their mother’s milk for the first two years of their lives, and it takes another two years before they’re completely weaned. Daphne, who developed a formula consisting of human infant formula infused with vegetable fat and coconut oil, is the first person to successfully raise an infant elephant.
Many of the calves arrive at the sanctuary in a severe state of distress. They are each assigned a keeper who will bunk down with the baby elephant in a sleeping stall to provide comfort.
When they’re old enough, the calves are moved to a relocation center in Tsavo National Park, nearly 200 miles away. They continue to be cared for by a keeper and are eventually released to join the wild elephant communities that live in the park.
Elephants are just like humans, Daphne says, “only better.”
“They’re not corrupted. Their sense of family is as strong as ours. Their memories are amazing and their convoluted thinking and reasoning is equal to that of a human … The caring and nurturing is far greater in elephants than it is in humans, and loyalty and friendship endures.”